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Romans 16:1-16

In this sixteenth chapter, Paul still has many important last words to write. In the first 16 verses, Paul identifies several people with whom he had served throughout his ministry. These were the people that Paul considered indispensable to his ministry. The work of the church takes many people laboring together for a common goal. Note that Paul encourages each one personally by name. Then in verses 17-20, Paul discusses the complete opposite, those who cause division within the church. These are people who are one of the great scourges of the church. He also gives some specific commands of how to deal with these problem people in the church. In verses 21-27, Paul finishes the epistle by explaining why he has sent this letter to them, and the ultimate purpose of the gospel message. He refers to the gospel as the great mystery that God had given to him to preach.  

What does Paul think of his fellow servants? He writes, I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. Greet Mary, who labored much for us. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved. Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my countryman. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you” (Rom. 16:1-16).

How important are the servants in the church?

When you look at this list of the servants of God, obviously these people were very important to Paul and his ministry. Their importance to him is why Paul takes so much time to write this special note of greeting and thanksgiving for their labor in the Lord. Paul mentions twenty-six individuals in verses 1 through16, and then in verses 21-23 he mentions eight more people that were with him at that moment in Corinth.

This list tells me something very important; the church is not a one-man show. I believe that the church requires many people serving to qualify it as an assembly of believers that is strong and healthy.

Why do I say this? Jesus made it very clear to His disciples what He was looking for in those who followed Him. Mark recorded for us this instruction so that we would not miss the point of discipleship. He writes, “Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, ‘What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?’ But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all’” (Mark 9:33-35). To be the servant of all is our calling as disciples of Christ. The greater the number of servants in any given church will reveal the health of that church.

Many years ago, I asked my secretary to send out a letter to every servant in our church thanking them for their labor. I asked her, “how many letters did you send out?” She said, “one hundred and ninety-three, and many of them are serving in several ministries.” I thought to myself, Wow! This is half of the people in this church.

You must remember that the number of servants a church has reveals the love that abides there. Servanthood is the result of God working His love inside your life. Paul taught this truth in Galatians 5:13 when he wrote, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an occasion for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” True godly love will naturally motivate you to serve others. This is why I believe the more servants there are in a church, the healthier that church is, because it shows that people are loving others. Love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit ruling inside your life. Love produces the maturity that results in service to others. Do you see this fruit of real maturity in your own life? If so, whom do you serve? Service to others should always begin in your own home. That means husbands serving their wives and wives serving their husbands. If you are single and living with a roommate, do you serve in your home? Then, do you serve well in your job and give your boss an honest day’s labor for the pay you receive? Do you serve somewhere at church or a church related ministry? You are to be a servant wherever you are. Servanthood is truly an essential aspect of the Christian life.

Servanthood is also where your spiritual gifts come into play. Whatever gift of the Spirit you possess is where and how you should be serving. Peter declared, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1Peter 4:10). Notice he says, “As each one has received a gift,” that means you have a spiritual gift, and God wants you to use it! Once you determine what that gift is, be a good steward of His gifting, find your place of service, and use that gift for His glory. If you are thinking, But I don’t know what my gift is. How can I find my gift? Go to my website and print out these two documents, and go through them in the order I am listing them here. First, read through https://covenantkeepers.org/bible-studies/discipleship-studies?layout=edit&id=472 Next print out my gift questionnaire, and it will help you to think more deeply about this topic, https://covenantkeepers.org/bible-studies/discipleship-studies?layout=edit&id=580  Your gift will enable you to serve and minister to others. 

Another helpful truth that will motivate you to service as a Christian is to know that God is looking for servants that He can use in His Kingdom. In fact, He is constantly looking for those He can show His power and ability through as they serve. In 2 Chronicles 16:9 it says, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.” Think of it, God is constantly looking for anyone that He can use who has a loyal heart toward Him. This means that to be of service in the Kingdom of God you need a right heart before Him, and then He will flood you with His strength and power. Why do you need His power? Because without Him you can do nothing (John 15:5). As He enables you, He can take unqualified and untrained people, like the disciples, and use them to turn the world upside down (Acts 4:13). Jesus called fishermen, tax collectors, political zealots and used them in supernatural ways. Jesus did that then, and He still does it today. Just as He called the disciples to follow Him, He will make you become fishers of men (Mark 1:17). Just as Isaiah heard God’s call when He said, “Who will go for Us?”  And Isaiah said, “Here am I! Send me” (Is. 6:8). Will you raise your hand today and say, “Lord send me to do your work?” If you will, He will empower you and enable you to serve Him and others in a manner that will bring glory to God.    

Please realize that the church of Jesus Christ is not a one-man show; it takes each and every one of us serving Him and serving others. We are the body of Christ. We are His hands, feet, and mouth in this world. Find your gift, find your place of service, and then do it. Do your service as unto Him, because it is Him you serve. 

What were Paul’s primary commands to these churches and to those who served?

There are several commands given by Paul to the church at Rome. Each of these commands that he gives to these believers is very important. Why are they so important? Because Paul is encouraging these believers to treat each other the same way God treats them. Remember that after Jesus washed the disciples’ feet He said to them, “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). So, may you be encouraged, as you hear these commands, that you would treat other believers in the same way!  

I commend to you Phoebe!

Paul begins with, “I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea.” The city of Cenchrea was six miles east of Corinth, or about an hour and a half drive west of Athens, Greece. Cenchrea was the eastern seaport for goods traveling overland across a small isthmus to Corinth. Instead of shipping goods all the way around the land mass of Greece to get to the Adriatic Sea and to Italy, it was much faster to ship goods overland through these two cities. Today, Greece has dug a canal so ships can pass through this land mass just like the Suez or Panama canals. Therefore, Cenchrea and Corinth were very important cities which is exactly why Paul sought to establish these churches.

The word Paul used concerning Phoebe was that he commended her to the church. The word commend literally means to stand with someone in an approving way. This same word is used in Luke 9:32 after the transfiguration, “But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with him.” Moses and Elijah stood with Him. These two men who represented the law and the prophets, stood approvingly with Jesus. If there was still a question in the disciple’s mind concerning who Jesus was, this moment must have strengthened the faith of these men. So, this little word commend is really important. Paul is clearly commanding the church that they need to stand with Phoebe.  They were to encourage and be supportive to her. Why would that be important for Paul to command them? In those days a woman had very little standing under Roman law. Women were seen as property or as chattel. Even wealthy women had real issues in the Roman world. But here Paul is making a real statement concerning the equality of women in Christ. Paul told the Galatian church, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). This was a revolutionary statement in the first century. Paul was obviously not a male chauvinist as many today charge him. He believed that women were completely his equal and proved this by his teaching here, and the fact that he is sending this important epistle with her to Rome.

In addition, this word servant that Paul used in the description of Pheobe is the same word translated in other places in the New Testament as deacon. This word is also in the feminine which could mean that it should really be translated as the deaconess of the church. This woman had a very important position within the church. Paul surely trusted her and speaks very approvingly of her in this passage. Remember, don’t let anyone tell you that Paul was a woman hater. This is just not true!

Finally, isn’t this same action of ‘standing approvingly’ exactly what Jesus has done with you? Because Jesus forgave you and received you to Himself, does He not stand with you approvingly today as His son or daughter? He declared you forgiven, justified, and righteous before Him when you believed in Him. One day He is going to stand with you, and He’s going to commend you when you stand in His presence. Scripture tells us in Matthew 25:21 that Jesus will say on that day, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” This declaration states He has approved us, and grants that we might stand with Him in His Kingdom. Oh, what a humbling experience that will be, because we will all realize that we don’t deserve praise from Him, because it was all God’s work within us. But these will be His words of appreciation for simply following Him.

Who do you know right now that might need you to stand with them approvingly? Maybe someone who has fallen in sin and who has repented, or one who is struggling in their faith and needs some encouragement? Or, possibly you know of someone who is serving and feels like no one cares or even sees their efforts. I would encourage you to go and stand with that person approvingly, and encourage them today with words that you care.

Receive her!

The second command Paul gives in verse 2 concerning Phoebe was to “Receive her.” This is the same concept that Paul encouraged all believers to do in Romans 15:7. He wrote, “Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.” The word receive means to welcome and be accepting of others. Paul further says to welcome Phoebe in a manner that is worthy of saints, which meant that Paul did not see this woman as a second-class believer, but as one set apart by God for the service of God. The word saint means a holy one or one set apart by God’s grace and forgiven from all sin, and made righteous by the blood of Jesus Christ. In no way did Paul want anyone to look down on Phoebe as less than any other believer. I love this statement of the apostle, because it reveals again that he saw female believers as completely equal to all male believers.

How should you treat a believer worthy of their position as saints? The same way you should treat any believer. You should treat all believers equally and without partiality, whether they are rich or poor, free or slave, male or female (Gal. 3:28). Simply love one another with Christ’s love, and that will remove all partiality. This is what Paul meant. But the question is, do you treat all believers with the same love? Or, do you have your own little tribe of friends that get special treatment from you? Will you do for these special friends what you would never do for others? If that is true, then you have partiality and incorrect motives. This is what James taught when he said, “If you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:9; 2:4). Why does he say if we have partiality, we would be transgressors of the law? Because this is exactly what the Law of Moses taught. Moses wrote to those who were in authority and sat in judgment of the people, “You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man’s presence, for the judgment is God’s” (Deut. 1:17). Notice God declared there should be no partiality for the small or the great. Everyone should be treated equally. This is the way Paul wanted Phoebe to be treated.

Assist her!

The third command Paul gave the church was to assist her in whatever need she had. The word assist means to stand near or to be at hand ready to help another. Again, this command is simply fulfilled by the fruit of love. This is what believers should do for each other. We should be ready to help when someone has a need. This is exactly what the Holy Spirit does with each one of us. Jesus called Him the Comforter or Helper (John 14:26). Do you realize that God is called our helper throughout the Bible? He is the Helper of the fatherless, and the One who will sustain your life (Ps. 10:14; Ps. 54:4). If God wants to conform you into His image, then it will mean that you too will become a helper.

For those of you looking for a ministry to get involved in as a believer, do you realize that assisting and helping others is the easiest way to find what your ministry might be? I suggest to people all the time, determine what area of ministry interests you, and then just start to help someone involved in that same ministry. When I was a pastor, I would ask people to sign up to be a helper in our Sunday school ministry, at our sound board, or in our video ministry. They weren’t signing up to lead a class or a ministry, just to be a helper. When you get involved and start to help others, all of a sudden you think to yourself one of two things. You will either think, This is really not my ministry, I don’t really have abilities here. Or, you will have the opposite thought, I really love ministering to children, or doing sound or video, because you have found your gifting. Many times, that person will one day end up overseeing that same ministry or becoming a life-long Sunday school teacher.

I remember this is exactly how I first got involved in my ministry. One day the teacher in our home Bible study came up to me and asked, “Steve, would you help me by teaching this Bible study next week?” I thought to myself, I’ve never taught anyone anything. I’m the guy who sat in the back of the class and never spoke in public, and you want me to teach a Bible study? But I said to this man, “Okay, I’ll give it a shot. I’ll give it a try.” I taught the study, and I thought to myself, I really enjoyed teaching. This is something I would like to do. A month later the man asked if I wanted teach another class. I began to teach more and more until I took over teaching full time. This was the beginning of my teaching ministry, and what ultimately drew me to pastoring a church. I encourage you to find a place of service that interests you and begin to help in that ministry. If you continue serving and helping others, God will eventually show you your ministry, and then fulfill that ministry with all your might (Ecc. 9:10)!

One of the best biblical examples of this principle of assisting others is found in the book of Acts. Luke records, “Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 18:24-28). Notice that the simple effort of Priscilla and Aquila in helping and encouraging Apollos brought about a strengthened believer who then went on to help others and boldly testify to Christ’s work on the cross. The phrase that Apollos greatly helped the people is the same Greek word for assist in our text here in Romans. Many times, you never know how your helping of others will enable others to become strengthened and boldened in their witness for Christ. Who might you assist today?

Greet others!

The fourth command Paul gives over and over again in the remaining verses of this text is to greet others. Paul wanted them to greet those who have served with him. In this last chapter Paul used this word greet twenty times, so it must be a very important thing to do as a believer. The word greet literally means to welcome someone, show respect, and to embrace them. Now, if there is one charge that is made against the church in general, it is that the church is just a big click of stuffy and self-righteous people. I have heard this charge many times from people who have tried to attend different churches. They have told me, “There are all these little groups, and little groupies, and I just couldn’t get into the little click.” When this charge is made, I can guarantee you that this church has not loved that person as it should. They have not received that person as they should. They have not stood with that person approvingly as they should. They have not helped that person as they should. In fact, that church has actually hindered the person who made this charge. All they were trying to do was to get involved with God’s people and could not. This is why it is so essential that you greet one another. I would encourage you to simply remember what it was like when you first walked into your church. What did it feel like? What was it like when you ventured into a men’s fellowship, women’s fellowship, or a small group meeting for the very first time? I see that newcomer standing by themselves or sitting alone in the pew hoping that someone will greet them. Do you see the new person when they come to your church or small group? I hope that you have eyes to see that person. When you see that person sitting in the pew by themselves at church, do you ever go over to greet them and find out their name and where they are from? When you see them the following Sunday, do you make an effort to talk to them again? If you want people to greet and welcome you, then do the same to that new person. Jesus said, Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). This is what it means to be a saint of God and to treat others worthy of the love of God. This is what it means to be the church of God. This is what it means to love other people the way you want to be loved. But, you say, “I don’t like talking to people. I’m afraid to do that.” Well, you need to get over it, because love casts out fear. You don’t have to walk up in front of the church and go on the stage to greet everybody, just greet one person sitting next to you, or that new person sitting in front of you. Anyone can do that, you just put your hand out and introduce yourself. One of the simplest ways to introduce yourself is to say, “Hi, my name is… What is your name?” Now, if you are like me and you have difficulty remembering people’s names, try this. What I do is I write down their name as soon as I sit down after the service begins. Then the next time I see that person, I go up to them and greet them by name. Do you know what people usually say back to me? “Wow, you remembered my name!” This is how you take someone who is a stranger, and you make them a friend. I also like to introduce that new person to some of my friends who walk by, so they get to know more than one person. This is how you welcome and show respect to a person. You can’t become friends with others if you don’t show yourself to be friendly. So why don’t you try this the next time you go to church? Ask the Lord to open your eyes to that person who needs someone to welcome and greet them. Remember, Jesus said in Matthew 5:47, “If you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?” Jesus makes a great point here. Even unbelievers and tax collectors greet their friends. If you only greet those that you know, what are we doing more than others? Real love goes out of its way to greet others.

One couple to remember!

In this long list of the servants of God, there is one couple in this church that I believe deserves special mention. Why do I say this? Because Paul gives them special mention in verses 3 and 4. Paul greets Priscilla and Aquila, whom he called his fellow workers in Christ Jesus. The thing that was special about this couple was that they had risked their own lives for Paul. He then gives them special thanks, because he owes them his life. Paul doesn’t mention what they did, but it must have been something very dramatic for him to mention their service.  

Priscilla and Aquila were two very important people in Paul’s ministry. He met them in Corinth and they became good friends. Luke records this meeting in Acts chapter 18:1-3 where he declared, “After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers.” Paul actually lived and worked with Priscilla and Aquila, because they were of the same trade, being tentmakers. This couple became a helper to Paul, and Paul was a helper to them.

Then in 1 Corinthians 16:19, which was written from Ephesus Paul writes, “The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.” Notice that wherever this couple traveled with Paul a church started in their home. In the first century church the home was where believers gathered together. It is clear that Priscilla and Aquila must have been kindred spirits with Paul for them to work, travel, and live together. They must have loved each other and had great mutual respect for one another. What a great team they made.

The question remains concerning how Priscilla and Aquila risked their lives for Paul. The way Paul writes these words it appears that it was common knowledge about how they risked their lives for him. We can only speculate what they did for him, but there are some great possibilities to wonder about. When you read the accounts of Paul’s ministry in Corinth and Ephesus there are two similarities that stand out. First, Priscilla and Aquila were with Paul, and second, in both cities there were riots that occurred that could have taken Paul’s life. As you read these accounts it is clear that Paul was not in the middle of these riots. Other people are being beaten for their faith in Christ, but in these two cases Paul was not hurt. Why? Was it because Aquila and Priscilla shielded Paul? Specifically in Ephesus, the Scripture declares that Paul was trying to go into the Roman theater, but he was restrained (Acts 19:30-31). As you read this story you realize that unnamed disciples were the ones who pleaded with Paul not to venture into the theater that day. Did Priscilla and Aquila do something to stop Paul, which saved his life and risked their own? This is one possible option to consider.

However, what is clear is that this couple was willing to give up their own lives to save Paul at some point during his ministry. I want you to think about this question for a moment. Is there anyone you love enough that you would give up your life to save theirs? I hope so, because this means you truly know the meaning of self-sacrificial love. You know the meaning of the words that Jesus spoke, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). In addition, the phrase they risked their lives, literally means to put their neck under the ax. This couple was willing to put their necks on the chopping block for Paul. They were willing to literally give up their lives to save his. This is why Paul makes this special note, because it is behavior above just standing with someone approvingly. It is behavior way above just receiving others, assisting others, or welcoming others. Think about this again, is there anybody you are willing to die for? I hope so. I hope you’re willing to first give your life for Christ. I hope you’re willing to give your life for your spouse or your children if someone wanted to hurt them. This is what Jesus did for you.  He was willing to lay His life down for you! He was willing to go to the cross for you! You must realize that every encouragement that Paul has given to the Romans is exactly what Jesus did for you. Jesus laid His life down, so He could receive us unto Himself, so we could be forgiven, and He could stand approvingly with each of us as His son or daughter. This is exactly what Paul wants us to do for one another. Priscilla and Aquila are the examples that there are believers who would actually do this.

In Matthew 16:24-25, “Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.’” If you want to be a follower of Christ, this is what is required of you. You must lose your life for His sake. If you are playing with the world, you are trying to save your life. This will mean that you will not deny yourself, and you will not be willing to give your life for anyone else, including Him. Why is that so important? Life here as a Christian in the United States is turning against believers rapidly. Jews and Christians are the only ones who are looked at as “intolerant” today. Yet, we are the only ones who have any kind of moral standards left. We believe in God’s commandments to define what is moral or immoral activity. When you speak up about biblical morality with the people you work with, or your family, all of a sudden you realize people don’t look at Christians as being nice people anymore. When you read the Book of Revelation, you realize that anyone who comes to faith in Christ during the tribulation will be put to death. Why? Because they will not follow the Anti-Christ. I can’t be sure how much persecution we will experience before the rapture of the church. But persecution is growing every day in our country and around the world, so you should prepare yourself. Are you ready to suffer for your faith in Christ and put your life on the chopping block for Him and for those you love?

One example I experienced of this hatred of our society against Christians, was when I preached against gay marriage a few years ago. We put this video presentation on our television program, and immediately I got death threats on my phone at our church. My poor secretaries took phone calls one after another of people swearing and saying every foul thing you could imagine. Why did people do this? Because they said I hated gay people, and I was intolerant. But, I’m sorry, these people who called and threatened my wife and I were the intolerant ones. You can’t hate someone and threaten them with physical harm just because you disagree with them. My presentation was loving and caring. One man in our congregation, who was formally in the gay lifestyle, came up to me after I taught the study and thanked me for my loving and caring words.

Finally, remember that people give their lives for Christ every single day around the world. Christians are persecuted and martyred daily in countries where Hinduism or Islam are the dominant religions. If you doubt what I’ve just said, do a search on the Internet and you will find testimony after testimony of these facts. I’m a board member with Send Hope Now, a missions organization that supports pastors and orphans in India. Our missionaries are persecuted and beaten on a regular basis. I have heard their testimonies first-hand. This is happening all over the world, but you just don’t hear about it. The mainstream news media does not report Christian persecution, except in the most extreme cases.

My encouragement to you is, be prepared! You need to realize you are not looked at approvingly in our society today. The Scripture declares that the closer we come to the Second Coming of Christ, persecution will become “worse and worse” (2 Tim. 3:12-13). Prepare yourself! If you are trying to save your life in this world, you will eventually give in and compromise your faith. If you allow Christ to fill you with His Holy Spirit and power, you will stand the tests that are coming. Cry out for the infilling of the Spirit today and follow Him!